Romans

2:17-29

Arguments in support of the proposition, 1:18-11:36

1. The impartial nature of God's righteous condemnation of universal sin, 1:18-3:20

v] In the face of human sinfulness, the law is powerless to shape the qualities in a person that would make them worthy of God's praise

Argument

In 2:12-29 Paul examines the place of the law in the righteous judgment of God, so reinforcing the point that those law-bound believers who think they maintain their Christian life and move it forward by a strict adherence to the law of Moses, only ever end up breaking the law and thus face its curse - the "wrath and fury" of God's condemnation. In the passage before us Paul argues that the assumed advantage of the Mosaic law, namely its power to restrain sin and advance holiness, producing a supposed superior spirituality, is demonstrably not true. The behavior of the self-righteous is little more than blasphemy since they do not do what they preach, while at the same time it is possible to point to "uncircumcised" people who live lives that reflect the Mosaic law, and yet do so without reference to it.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 1:1-7. As already noted, Paul includes the righteous (law-bound believers - many of whom would be Jewish believers) in the universal state of human sin, 1:18-32. Now, in 2:1-3:20, he focuses particularly on the righteous,, those who would "judge others", 2:1, and how they, as with the rest of humanity, are in a state of sin.

 

ii] Background: See 1:8-15.

 

iii] Structure: This passage continues to develop the argument that due to universal sin and the impartial judgment of God, the law serves only to condemn, v12-29:

The law is powerless to shape the qualities in a person that would make them worthy of God's blessings, v17-24;

Circumcision is powerless to render a person worthy of God's blessings, v25-29.

 

iv] Interpretation:

These chapters in Romans on the function of the law have proved a hotbed of debate. The way through this malaise is to recognize that Paul's argument is not about the law's capacity to save, but the law's capacity to improve / purify. Paul's argument is focused on the heresy of nomism, not legalism. He is seeking to address the nomism promoted by the Judaizers / members of the circumcision party who have infiltrated his missionary churches and who have sought to counter his grace apart from law gospel- See "Background" above and introductory notes.

 

IoudaioV: Rather than the general reference to those "under the law", v12, Paul now specifically uses the title "Jew" - those who call themselves a Jew, v17. Is this person an unconverted, or converted Jew, or necessarily a Jew at all? Debate rages on this subject. As already noted, it does seem likely that Paul's words are directed toward nomist believers, with a particular focus on the judaizers / members of the circumcision party. None-the-less, Paul's words can apply equally to an unconverted Jew, as well as a converted Jew, even a Gentile believer who now affirms Jewish heritage. This "Jew" is representative of those who are committed to the Mosaic law in order to improve their covenant standing by restraining sin and advancing holiness through law-obedience. Jesus constantly sought to expose this heresy in the religious life of the Pharisees and Paul similarly seeks to expose it in the religious life of the judaizers and their nomist disciples. So, Paul uses the term "Jew" to identify a person who, in affirming Jewish heritage, submits to the law of Moses, as opposed to others ("Gentiles") who don't. At any rate, Paul's argument at this point is that this law for improvement idea is obviously not working.

 

hJ akrobustia: The other difficulty we face in this passage is in identifying "those who are uncircumcised", v26, and how it can be said of them that they "keep the law", v27. In the forefront of Paul's thinking, the "uncircumcised" are believing Gentiles, people whose law-keeping relates to their standing in Christ through faith, which, in the power of the indwelling Spirit, bears the fruit of love. Yet, as with the "Jew", Paul's words are not specific to a converted person. Many people, without the law, live moral lives, and in doing so, apart from the law, expose the corruption of those who live under the law. Here then is a moralist who lives without the law, but of course, unless he is righteous by faith, then he, like those under the law, ultimately faces the condemnation of God.

 

v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 2:17

Due to universal sin and the impartial judgment of God, the law serves only to condemn, v12-29: iii] The law is powerless to shape the qualities in a person that would make them worthy of God's blessings, v17-24. Paul gives us the example of a moral man, a law-keeping man, a Jew. There is endless discussion as to whether this man is converted, or not, but it doesn't matter. How does this man stand in the face of the righteous judgment of God on the basis of his law-keeping? By relying on the law he is in trouble because when he is tested by the law of Moses he is found to be a law-breaker. He may be proud that he has the law as his birthright, a blessing and sign of God's favor toward him, yet in the end, he dishonors God by breaking the law. He may think that he has an advantage over those who are not committed to the law, yet, advantage only exists when the law is obeyed, and the reality is all sin and fall short of the glory of God. So, for this moral man, the presumed advantage of the law is actually a disadvantage.

de "Now" - but, and. Serving as a transitional connective, indicating the next step in the argument, as NIV.

ei + ind. "if" - Note variant ide, "behold", probably an attempt to deal with the unwieldy conditional clause. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, .... then, ....." The "if" clause, the protasis, is formed by multiple clauses, while the "then" clause, the apodosis, is in the form of a question, v21. The point being, "if, as you claim, you are righteous under the law, do you actually keep the law? Probably better translated as a positive statement; "Some of you call yourselves Jews. You trust in the Lord and take pride in God. .....", CEV.

su pro. "you" - Emphatic by use.

eponomazh/ (eponomazw) pres. pas. "you call yourself" - are called. Given the passive, possibly "you are called a Jew", or better "you bear the honored name of a Jew", Bruce.

IoudaioV "Jew" - Normally used to refer to a member of the covenant people of God with its associated privileges and responsibilities. The su, "you", may be general, or specifically "you members of the Roman church"; "you members named as Jews." As noted above, probably "you who are committed to covenant law", with believers particularly in mind.

epanapauh/ (epanapauomai) pres. "rely on" - rest on, rely upon. The present tense is probably gnomic. "Rely" on the law for standing with God; "lean back in the arms of", Peterson.

nomw/ (oV) dat. "the law" - law. Dative of direct object after the verb "rely on." "Law" as in "the law of Moses / covenant law."

kaucasai (kaucaomai) pres. "boast" - [and] boast. "Boast" as to their standing before God, so "brag", Morris.

en + dat. "about your relationship to [God] / "in [God]" - in [God]. The verb "to boast" is commonly followed by en + dat. Turner argues for a causal sense; "because of God. "They "brag", not about their particular relationship with God, but because they think they know God and assume that he can always be counted on to act in their favor, cf., Jewett.

 
v18

ginwskeiV (ginwskw) pres. "if you know [his will]" - [and] know [the will]. With regard "the will", a definite article is often used for a possessive pronoun, so as NIV, "his will."

dokimazeiV (dokimazw) pres. "[and] approve of" - [and] test, prove, approve of. Possibly "test out" what is right, "discover what is right", CEV, but more likely "determine and then approve" what is right; "you are able, through your knowledge of the Law, truly to appreciate moral values", Phillips.

ta diaferonta (diaferw) pres. part. "what is superior" - the things excelling, being worth more than. The participle serves as a substantive; "the things that are important", Jewett. "What is excellent", RSV.

kathcoumenoV (kathcew) pres. part. "because you are instructed" - being instructed. The participle is adverbial, possibly causal, as NIV, or instrumental expressing means, "by being instructed", Williams. "Instructed" orally, given that this was the usual form of instruction. "Being instructed in a formal way", Wuest.

ek + gen. "by [the law]" - from [the law]. Generally expressing source / origin, "from the law", ESV, but means is certainly possible, as NIV.

 
v19

te "-" - A connective of clauses in close relationship so linking the assumed knowledge of the IoudaioV, "Jews", with their assumed capacity to lead the blind.

pepoiqaV (peiqw) perf. "if you are convinced" - having persuaded, been sure, certain [yourself]. "You have convinced yourself", Jewett.

einai (eimi) "that your are [a guide]" - to be [a guide]. The infinitive serves to form a dependent statement of perception, as NIV; the accusative subject of the infinitive is seauton, "yourself [to be a guide]." The Jewish believers, because of their possession of the law, consider that "they are accredited teachers of those whose eyes are blinded by ignorance", Junkins.

tuflwn gen. adj. "for the blind" - of blind ones [a light of ones in darkness]. We are presented with two pairs of genitive predicate adjectives, verbal, objective; "the blind / those who are in the dark / the foolish / little children." We can well imagine that Paul has the judaizers / members of the circumcision party in view.

 
v20

afronwn gen. adj. "of the foolish" - [an instructor] of mindless, thoughtless, unthinking, foolish... Genitive adjective as above. "Persons without moral intelligence", Denney. Probably the instruction of spiritual things; you "instruct those who [you think] have no spiritual wisdom", Phillips.

nhpiwn gen. adj. "infants" - [a teacher] of babes. Possibly used of children, but the word can also be used metaphorically, eg., "babies in Christ", 1Cor.3:1. It is likely that this is the sense here. These "babies", in the view of the righteous believers in Rome ("the weak", nomists), are those who are missing that extra special ingredient in the Christian life, namely, righteousness under the law (the essential extra tacked onto the cross that serves to appropriate the full portion of God's promised blessings).

econta (ecw) pres. part. "because you have" - having [the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth]. The NIV has again taken the participle as adverbial, introducing a causal clause. Of course, Paul is being ironical, so not really "because in the law you have ....", Moffatt, but rather "you think / believe you have ...."

en "in [the law]" - Local, expressing sphere; in your possession of the Mosaic Law / the requirements of the covenant.

thn morfwsin (iV ewV) "the embodiment" - the outward form. Lightfoot understood the word as a mere representation, sketch of an inward reality, but it is best seen as "a true depiction and representation of the idea", TDNT. Only Paul's law-bound friends have "the basis of true knowledge (or so they think!), Phillips, "the perfect pattern", Conybeare.

thV gnwsewV (iV ewV) gen. "of knowledge [and truth]" - The genitive is adjectival, descriptive / attributive, limiting "perfect pattern"; "you think you have the perfect pattern which reveals the essence of divine knowledge and truth."

 
v21

oun "you then" - therefore. Possibly resumptive rather than inferential. Paul finally gets to the apodosis of his conditional clause which commenced in v17, although the syntax has been lost along the way and so he now resorts to a series of rhetorical questions. "Prepared as you are to instruct others, do you ever teach yourself anything?", Phillips.

oJ didaskwn (didaskw) pres. part. "you who teach [others]" - the one teaching [another yourself do you teach?] The participle serves as a substantive.

oJ khrusswn (khrussw) pres. part. "you who preach" - the one preaching. The participle serves as a substantive.

mh kleptein (kleptw) pres. inf. "against stealing" - to not steal [do you steal?] The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what is preached, ie. "do not steal."

 
v22

oJ legwn "you who say" - the one saying. The participle serves as a substantive.

mh moiceuein (moiceuw) pres. inf. "that people should not commit adultery" - not to commit adultery [do you commit adultery?] The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what is said, namely, "do not commit adultery." Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, completes ("fulfills") the law by declaring it in perfection and by so doing, removes any possibility of claiming God's approval on the basis of doing it. Who can claim to have not looked at a woman /man with lust? Although the law serves as a guide to the Christian life, it primarily serves to expose sin, and it is for this purpose that Jesus regularly used it. How easy it is for a law-bound believer, a nomist, here a nomist teacher = the judaizers, to miss the obvious and preach against adultery, as if the law can restrain sin and progress purity for blessing. In preaching the law they have to ignore their own adulterous acts and thoughts, believing that somehow they can be discounted by means of a judicial loophole, eg., by producing a bill of divorce. No person can claim they are free of lust, and probably few people can claim they that they have never physically committed adultery, given that the rule of thumb is if you go to bed with someone you marry them - in fact, you are married / one flesh, so you need to follow up with a public declaration of the fact and "leave you father and your mother."

oJ bdelussomenoV (bdelussomai) pres. part. "you who abhor idols" - the one abhorring. "You who detest, loathe idols." The participle serves as a substantive.

iJerosuleiV (iJerosulew) pres. "rob temples" - do you commit sacrilege? Possibly referring to the accepted practice of religious leaders who, due to their position, felt they had no need to pay the temple tax, cf. Mal.3:8. Still, trying to find some actual offense against the temple misses the point. As with adultery, Paul is speaking of the ethical purity demanded in the sermon on the mount, a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, a perfection where there is not the hint of sacrilege in either thought, or action. "Thy piety is arrogance, for where is the piety which does not approach God too nearly", Barth.

 
v23

en "[brag] about [the law]" - [who boast] in [the law]. Possibly causal here, "because of the law", Turner; "are confident because of their standing under the law", ie., righteous under the law. The confidence of a religious Jew probably didn't lie in their submission to the law to gain salvation (legalism), since their standing before God was a matter of grace, a birthright under God. Their confidence rested in their privileged status under the law, which through law-obedience progressed the appropriation of the promised covenant blessings (nomism). Many Jewish believers, the judaizers, "the weak", had brought this thinking with them into the Christian fellowship and it is this issue which Paul confronts. Paul's argument, drawn from the teachings of Jesus, is that a person's full appropriation of God's promised blessings is by grace through faith. All the law does is remind us of this fact, for righteousness is not possible under the law, only condemnation. So, "the weak" in Rome may be confident because of their standing under the law, but then, the problem is that they break the law and in so doing enact the curse of the law against them. The reader will understand how common this heresy is today given that as a child we were taught "trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." It is also worth noting that this issue is central to the present debate over Pauline theology between new perspective and reformed commentators.

dia + gen. "by" - through / by. Instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

tou nomou (oV) gen. "[breaking] the law" - [disobedience] of the law [dishonor God]. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, objective, as NIV. "Do you dishonor God by its violation?", Phillips.

 
v24

gar "-" - for. More reason than cause, indicating that the text functions as part of the argument, explaining something about the previous statement. Certainly here the point is argumentative, even to the point of being consequential; "as a consequence of your behavior, the scripture says of you that ......"

kaqwV "as it is written" - Comparative used of a quote. The phrase is commonly used of a quote from scripture.

to onoma (a atoV) "[God's] name" - the name [of God]. In the sense of "God's person." The genitive "of God" is obviously possessive.

blasfhmeitai (blasfhmew) pres. pas. "blasphemed" - is blasphemed. The present tense is best viewed as iterative, expressing repeated action. Probably in the sense of defaming God by their failure to obey. Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, but the hypocrisy of the self-righteous is easy to see.

di (dia) + acc. "because of [you]" - Causal; "because of, on account of you."

 
v25

iv] Circumcision is powerless to render a person worthy of God's blessings, v25-29. Paul's point is that physical circumcision is a sign of covenant inclusion and thus only a divine blessing if a person keeps the law, but a sign of cursing it they don't. As has always been the case, true circumcision is a matter of the heart (cf. Jer.4:4), such that a believer in Christ is already circumcised by the Spirit and so fully a member of God's covenant community along with its associated blessings and thus worthy of his praise.

gar "-" - for. More reason / explanatory than cause, indicating an argumentative link and so best left untranslated, as NIV.

men ..... de "......., but ...." - Adversative comparative construction; "on the one hand ....., but on the other ..."

peritomh (h) "circumcision" - circumcision [profits] Obviously here physical circumcision as a sign of covenant status.

ean + subj. "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd class, where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, you obey the law, then circumcision is of value."

prasshV (prassw) pres. subj. "you observe [the law]" - Given that the subjunctive verb to-be h|/V, "you are [a transgressor of the law]", takes the durative present tense, does Paul mean "habitually break the law"? Is a distinction being drawn between a transgression and outright rebellion? So, with "observe the law", does Paul mean "perfectly obey the law", or "sincerely try to obey the law"? Technical perfection is surely the issue at hand, although commentators are divided.

ean + subj. "[but] if" - Conditional clause, 3rd class, as above, although one would expect a 1st class conditional clause; "but on the other hand, if, as the case may be, .... then ...."

nomou (oV) gen. "[you break] the law" - [you are a transgressor] of law. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, objective, as NIV, ie., the action is applied to the law, the law being the object of the action.

akrobustia (a) "not ... circumcised" - [the circumcision of you has become] uncircumcision. A failure, by those under the law, to obey the law, classifies their circumcision as uncircumcision - they are classified as an uncircumcised pagan.

 
v26

oun "so then" - therefore. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

ean + subj. "if" - Conditional clause as v25.

fulassh/ (fulassw) pres. subj. "keep [the law's requirements]" - [the uncircumcision] guard, protect = observe, keep [the just requirements of the law]. Again we have the interesting description of the "not circumcised" person who "habitually guards the righteous requirements of the law", Wuest. As already noted, Paul, in addressing the nomism of the law-righteous, makes the point that he is able to point out Gentiles whose ethical behavior without the Mosaic law exceeds that of the circumcised under the law. The point of the argument being that the law does not serve to foster superior ethical behavior. The "uncircumcised" person in Paul's mind is probably a Gentile believer, but for the point of the argument it can be any moral person. Other conclusions are proposed: i] Paul is speaking of a believer's walk in the Spirit apart from the law, which Christ-like walk is relatively righteous, in that those under the law are prompted toward rebellion while those under grace are prompted toward Christ-likeness - the forgiven forgive, while those told to forgive, forgive in name only. This view is theologically sound, but may not apply here; ii] Paul is speaking of a believer's standing in Christ under Christ's obedience. Again, theologically true, but unlikely in this context; iii] As a conditional clause, 3rd class, the idea is being proposed as a theoretical possibility; iv] The sense of "keep the law" here refers to "the obedience [that consists] of faith." Again unlikely in the context since "the law's requirements" = the LXX technical term "the righteous requirements of the law", ie., Paul has the actual doing of the law in mind. "The precepts of the law", ESV.

tou nomou (oV) gen. "the law's" - of the law. The genitive is ablative, expressing source/origin, "the precepts sourced from the law", or verbal, subjective. The Mosaic law is again in mind, although for Gentiles, the substance of the law, its moral precepts and the degree to which those precepts are understood, is what counts.

ouc "[will they] not" - [will] not [the uncircumcision of him] This negation, used in a question, prompts an answer in the affirmative; "will not an uncircumcised person who fulfills the substance of the Mosaic law in accord with their understanding be regarded as if they were circumcised? Of course they will."

logisqhsetai (logizomai) fut. pas. "be regarded as though" - be reckoned as, accounted as. The passive is probably divine / theological. As stated above, Gentile believers are not far from Paul's mind when he speaks of the "uncircumcised." For a believer, their Christ-like life serves as the sign of their covenant inclusion and as such is as good as the sign of circumcision.

eiV + acc. "-" - to / for [circumcision]. A rather rare construction used for a predicate nominative; probably Semitic. Sometimes used in quotations and after ginomai, eimi, and as here, logizomai. cf., Zerwick #32, Wallace p.47.

 
v27

Note the numerous translations, particularly as either a statement, or a question. Note also the emphatic position of "condemn" at the head of the Gk. sentence.

hJ ... akrobustia "the one who is not circumcised" - the uncircumcision [by nature keeping the law will judge you the transgressor of law through / by letter and circumcision].

ek + gen. "physically" - out of [nature, natural]. Expressing source/origin; referring to those uncircumcised people who have come out of = born into a community of uncircumcised people. "Have never been circumcised", CEV. See v14.

telousa (telew) pres. part. "[and yet] obeys [the law]" - the one ... completing, finishing, keeping, fulfilling. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal, "when they fulfill the law", or possibly conditional, "if they keep the law" = "and yet keep the law." Harvey suggests that reads more naturally as adjectival, so NASB. As Barrett notes, Paul does not use this word in the sense of "obeying" the law and so suggests "give full effect to" although "fulfilling" the law may be what Paul means.

krinei (krinw) fut. "will condemn [you]" - will judge. As Cranfield notes, the "uncircumcised" [believer] "will not assume the role of judge, but rather that he will be a witness for the prosecution", having lived without the law as the circumcised should have lived under the law.

ton .... parabathn (hV ou) "who, ...... are a lawbreaker" - the transgressor [of the law by the letter and circumcision]. Introducing a noun clause standing in apposition to se, "you".

dia + gen. "even though" - through, by means of. The second half of the sentence is controlled by this preposition. The preposition naturally takes an instrumental sense which would mean "those who keep the law will condemn you who, through / by means of the law and circumcision, break the law." Indeed, the law does make sin more sinful, in a sense, promotes rebellion and Paul certainly does argue the case that when we place ourselves under the law to promote holiness, we end up promoting sin. Grace, on the other hand, promotes righteous living. Still, most commentators find this approach a little raw and so suggest that the preposition here introduces an attendant circumstance; the righteous believers have the law and circumcision, and they break the law; "the uncircumcised ...... will judge you who, for all your observance of the letter, and your circumcision, are a transgressor of the law", Barrett.

ton .. grammatoV kai peritomhV "the written code and circumcision" - Possibly a hendiadys, "literal circumcision", but better taken as expressing "the two advantages of Israel", Mounce.

nomou (oV) gen. "[are] a law[breaker]" - [transgressor] of law. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, objective, but possibly adjectival, attributive, limiting "transgressor"; "if you habitually break the law", Barclay; see above on the "habitually" idea.

 
v28

Covenant membership / inclusion is a matter of the heart and not outward form, v28-29. This fact is addressed to those committed to the covenant, with particular reference to law-bound believers.

gar "-" - for [he is not the Jew outwardly, nor the circumcision outwardly in flesh]. Best here serving as a stitching divine and left untranslated, but possibly explanatory.

ou ..... ouden "a person is not ..... nor ..." - neither .... nor. Correlative.

en tw/ fanerw/ "who is one only outwardly" - in the open = outwardly. The preposition en is adverbial here; "in outward appearance" = "outwardly".

en sarki "[outward and] physical" - [outwardly] in the flesh. Local, expressing space/sphere, as NIV, but again en may be functioning adverbially, "nor is circumcision performed, expressed, ..... outwardly, physically.

 
v29

alla "no" - but [the Jew]. Adversative here. "On the contrary", BAGD.

en tw/ kruptw/ "inwardly" - in the hidden. Again the preposition en is functioning adverbially, "inwardly".

kardiaV (a) gen. "of the heart" - [and circumcision is] of heart. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, objective.

en pneumati (a atoV) "by the Spirit" - in S/spirit. The pneumati, "S/spirit", may be the inward spiritual self. So, taking en again as adverbial, we end up with something like "circumcision expressed, performed, ... spiritually rather than literally." On the other hand, pneumati can be taken here as "the Holy Spirit" with the preposition en as instrumental, expressing means, "by means of the Holy Spirit", as NIV. Local, expressing space/sphere, is also possible; "circumcision of the heart, in spirit not letter, is [the real] circumcision", Barrett. "True circumcision is a matter of the heart - spiritual not literal", Cassirer, follows the general run of translations, but the NIV "Spirit" has its supporters; "true circumcision for the Jew was a matter of the heart, and this was effected by the Spirit, as the Old Testament always assumed, cf. Jer.9:25-26, Deut.10:16, 30:6", Dumbrell.

ou grammati (a atoV) "not by the written code" - not letter. The preposition en applies. As with en pneumati, "literally" may be intended, although most commentators opt for the sense "law"; "not conformity to any set of rules and regulations", Barclay.

ou| gen. pro. "such a man's" - [the praise] of whom [not from men but from God]. Referring to the Jew who is circumcised spiritually, the one inwardly true to their faith rather than the one just by birth and circumcision. Paul will later draw out the implication that believing Gentiles rightly stand with the true Jew as a child of Abraham through faith. God has always been able to raise up children of Abraham from other than Abraham's descendants, even from "stones", Matt.3:9.

oJ epainoV (oV) "praise" - Possibly a play on words given that Judah means praise, so Haldane. Barrett tries to bring this out with "he is a Jew, whose due comes from God not from men."

ex + gen. "from" - Expressing source/origin. The only praise worth anything derives from God.

 

Romans Introduction.

Exposition

 

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